Conviction and resilience to promote science and technology among children and youth in Mexico
Mexico is the 12th largest economy in world, occupying the 7th spot in car manufacturing and the 10th in electronics exports. All in all, Mexico’s output of value added assets place it at number 8 in the global manufacturing sector. The country is an engineering powerhouse … with a caveat: the average engineer in Mexico earns just below 10.000 USD/year. In comparison, the average engineer in Germany earns 70.000 USD/year. Globally there is high regard for those choosing the path of science and technology, but that might not be enough motivation if this path is not properly remunerated.
Mexico’s macroeconomic progress is still shadowed by stark social inequalities. There are regions and sectors where an engineering degree is far from accessible, and the choices available to young people evolve around informal employment, migration or in the worst case, joining criminal groups. This is an incredible loss of potential in a country of 123 million, of which about 30% is in the 5 to 19-year age bracket. That is the context in which Jorge Catzalco, who I met this summer, has dedicated his life to creating communities, methods and spaces where children and young people with an interest in science and technology can fully develop their potential.
Back in the early 90s, Jorge was leading a government program aimed at promoting scientific studies amongst youth in the city of Puebla. After six years, the government decided to shut the program down, but Jorge, convinced of the impact they were having, found a way to continue. He created the non-profit association Ciencia Joven AC. Since then, the organisation has supported more than 2.000 student-led projects of which about 500 have participated in recognized international competitions. This has been achieved through a series of efforts: organizing a national science cup, creating scientific protocols and the scientific animation method, catalysing the creation of about 50 science clubs, and establishing numerous international partnerships. Hundreds of students have been empowered by Ciencia Joven to pursue a scientific path and many of its pupils have gained scholarships to study in the best universities.
So, what brought the Siemens Stiftung and Ciencia Joven together?
Siemens Stiftung developed the SAMforSE (Self-Assessment Manual for Social Entrepreneurs), which provides insights on business development and business modelling to social enterprises in Africa and Latin-America. As part of this process, the Siemens Stiftung offers the opportunity to apply for a business advisory package. At the same time, Jorge felt that Ciencia Joven had reached a ceiling with its current model, and he wanted external advice on how to find new ways to solidify the organisation, both externally and internally. After a successful SAMforSE application, Jorge and I had a couple of remote sessions to understand his needs and aspirations in order to configure the structure and content of the on-site support. We established an ambitious five-day agenda of full day workshops touching on: business modelling, strategic planning, organisational development and marketing & communications. When the time came to run the workshops in Puebla, it was important to keep an open mind and adapt the tools and methods to the mood, progress and creative mindset of the group. With that premise in mind, we followed a three-block iterative framework that I have always found very useful.
Each block was filled with different activities and methodologies, which we adapted on the fly as we saw fit. The “Explore ways to get there” block results in a carefully crafted strategic plan conformed of targets and action plans. Revising the mission and vision was a delight; Jorge and the team knew exactly what their purpose is and where they want to go. It was, however, in discussing the sustainability of the model where the challenge surfaced. The most basic definition of a business model is that it is the rationale of how an organization creates, delivers and captures value. The creation and delivery of value is not an issue for Ciencia Joven. The problem was to select and prioritize activities. Ciencia Joven has been creating and delivering value for not only students and their parents, but also for schools and academic researches alike.
Our greatest challenge was to find fair ways to capture and monetise some of that delivered value in order to be able to run Ciencia Joven for many years to come. It is imposing and humbling to talk to a team of resilient people who have obviously tried everything; you are not going to magically find something new in one week. But coupling the right methods with inspired immersion, in a trust-rich environment, gave way to a creative moment where the group started making new connections between activities, beneficiary groups and key assets. It was great to watch, and it resulted in a clearer model with a healthy mix of revenue-generating services, and sponsorships. Once we had the financial and external perspectives in front of us, we shifted our focus inwards to establish the right organisational roles and communication plans to support the new strategy.
It was an intense and rewarding week. I learnt a lot from each and every one of the participants and I trust that Ciencia Joven gained new impulses and perspectives. We came up with 17 strategic goals that now have to be pursued. Although the distance makes it a bit challenging, I am looking forward to continuing to offer my views to the team. We already established an online team communication channel with an off-the-shelf tool.
Apart from the long-term impact that the outcomes of the intervention might bring, I believe such rapid engagements can have a twofold immediate effect: In terms of insights, they provide an environment that has the potential to unlock collective breakthrough moments. In terms of morale, they give important 3rd party reassurance to the social entrepreneurs about the value of their efforts. I really appreciate the support offered by the Siemens Stiftung to all these amazing 21st century entrepreneurs, to help them continue with their missions.
The SAMforSE tool was developed together with members of the empowering people. Network.